The best of the UK seaside


Broadstairs, Kent

Broadstairs must be in my blood. My mum’s family has been going there at least since Edward VII was on the throne. We have an old album of photographs of her parents horsing around in what is presumably Viking Bay. In one picture, my grandfather is posing in a woollen bathing suit with a half-crown stuck in his eye-socket as though it’s a monocle. Considering that he wasn’t known for his levity and that at the time it was taken, in the mid-1930s, the economy had gone south and the world stood on the brink of a terrible war, it says something about the restorative powers of Broadstairs.

Viking Bay, the most popular beach, is less than 10 minutes on foot from the train station. It’s a microcosm of the pleasures of the English seaside: a sweep of golden sand, rented deckchairs, chips on the beach — watch out for the predatory seagulls! — and excellent swimming at high tide. At low-tide, a square paddling pool emerges from the waves. It’s so choked with seaweed that I’m not sure it’s a great place to paddle, but it’s an excellent place to look for crabs. At the southern edge of the curved beach there are fairground attractions: swing-boats, bouncy castles, trampolines. The very adventurous can take surfing or stand-up paddleboard lessons. Or you could just sit under an umbrella and practise the card tricks you bought at Wormwolds Emporium of Magic on the way from the station.

When you’ve had too much sun, or if you’re rained off the beach, take refuge in Bessie’s Tea Parlour, where the vintage china and cream teas evoke an atmosphere in which my great grandparents would have felt at home. Fortunately, the food in general has changed beyond recognition. In addition to excellent ice-cream places and great fish and chips, there are a bunch of upmarket restaurants, of which Wyatt and Jones (lunch from £6, dinner mains from £16.50) strikes me as particularly nice. Another possibility is an improving visit to the Dickens House Museum, overlooking the bay. One of its former occupants was the inspiration for the formidable Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield. The tiny museum celebrates the novelist’s links with the area. “What larks!” as the great man might have put it.

Stay: The Yarrow is a hotel, restaurant and spa owned by a further education college and run by its students with 23 double/twin rooms. Doubles from £80 B&B

Millport, Ayrshire

During the fleeting Scottish summer, on those rare shoulder-baring days when the temperature nudges up to a level known as “taps aff”, quite a few Glaswegians take themselves off to Millport.

This magical little town is on the tiny island of Cumbrae in the Firth of Clyde, 35 miles west of Glasgow. As a treat, it’s fun to travel on board the Waverley paddle steamer with its smart funnels of black, white and red. The more usual thing is to take the little ferry from Largs; the crossing lasts just 10 minutes but imparts a delightful feeling of leaving the world behind; one’s cares dissolve in the milky wake. Do linger long enough in Largs to visit Nardini’s, Scotland’s most celebrated ice-cream parlour, and enjoy some elaborate confection of cherries and wafers and scoops in the grand art deco interior.